Miriam Toews gets nervous when people assume she’s read the classics

Can a ledger be poorly written? What other criteria can overcome bad prose?

It’s pretty hard to make up for bad prose.

Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

Anytime, in bed, alone. New fiction from a writer I love, like Laura van den Berg, with a decent lamp, under a warm duvet, with a light Terrence Mallick-type breeze that makes my curtains swell.

What’s your favorite book that no one else has heard of?

I have to say it’s “Ellen’s Eyes,” a beautiful, sad, weird book written by David Scott, the father of my son’s former high school basketball teammate. It has no margins or paragraph breaks. David and I were always at the games, but we didn’t sit together. I was so intrigued by him. Whenever the referees whistled, or if there was a pause in play, David would read, even if it was only for a minute or 20 seconds. Finally, I had the courage to go talk to him. We were really only talking about books. It was such a beautiful antidote to the cries of parents in the stands. The game has become an enjoyable and thrilling backdrop for our book conversations. David told me he lived outside of town, in the woods. In the last game of the season, he gave me a copy of “Ellen’s Eyes”, and I never saw him again. Then I heard he was dead. Years later, his son gave my son a painting that David had made, and it is on the wall in my son’s living room. It’s a painting of the cityscape of Winnipeg, with the Assiniboine River in the foreground, and it shows things in the river that would otherwise be invisible to us.

Which writers are particularly good at mother-daughter relationships?

Toni Morrison, Claire Cameron, Elena Ferrante, Mona Simpson, Alice Munro, Elizabeth Strout …

Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or has it come between you?

When I was 18 my boyfriend and I were hitchhiking in Europe. We had very little money and were always cold and hungry. We were in Oxford pretending we were university students there. My boyfriend found out that John Fowles was signing his new book at Blackwell. My boyfriend insisted on buying the book, I think it was “Mantissa”, and getting it signed. I was so angry. I sat on the sidewalk outside and refused to enter. It was a hardcover book, expensive, we could have eaten for a week with the money he spent, plus it was heavy, and we had backpacks that were already heavy. I was furious. We fought all over Western Europe over this book. And I have no idea where he is now. When my boyfriend and I broke up we got into an argument again about Italo Calvino’s “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler”, who it was and who should have it. Finally, my boyfriend was so anxious to be done with me that he said, “Take it. Take it, bye.

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About Mary Moser

Mary Moser

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